Degrowth: A "missile word" that backfires?

Stefan Drews, Miklós Antal

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

    40 Citations (Scopus)


    © 2016 Elsevier B.V. Language use and cognition are generally underappreciated topics in ecological economics, even if effective communication is essential for social and political impact. To challenge the economic growth paradigm, the concept and term "degrowth" has recently been embraced by various activists and scholars. Drawing on a body of evidence from cognitive science, psychology, and related fields, we argue that using the word degrowth might be disadvantageous in public communications about alternatives to growth. We begin by reviewing arguments in favor of the term. Then we outline three main counterarguments: First, degrowth has a downward orientation which triggers negative initial feelings due to the basic conceptual metaphor "up is good-down is bad". This puts advocates of an alternative to the growth paradigm in an unfavorable starting position, given that subsequent thought will be unconsciously biased by the initial feeling. Second, more conscious reactions are likely to be negative as well because people unfamiliar with the term will (mis)interpret it as a contraction of the economy, even though it is not always meant as such. Third, degrowth repeats and possibly strengthens the growth frame and may activate undesirable frames associated with economic recessions. To conclude, we briefly discuss alternative terms and summarize key aspects to be considered for more effective communication.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)182-187
    JournalEcological Economics
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


    • Cognition
    • Degrowth
    • Growth-versus-environment debate
    • Language
    • Public understanding
    • Snap judgment


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